Describe Timothy John Schafer (born July 26, 1967). [NOW / LATER]
Hmm. To get the ball rolling, let's dub him the Patron Deity of weird-yet-awesome Video Games, then follow up with an informal description cribbed from That Other Wiki. Sic Parvis Magna: Greatness From Small Beginnings.
His application for LucasArts was somewhat disastrous. He mentioned he was a fan of Ballblaster, at which point the interviewer, David Fox, informed him that this was the pirated version of Ballblazer. He was still permitted to send in his resume and a cover letter, so to make up for the phone interview, he sent in a comic of himself applying for and getting the job at Lucasfilm Games, drawn as a text adventure. It worked, and the rest is history.
He began as a play tester for the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade action game. Afterward he assisted with the NES version of Maniac Mansion. Then lightning struck when Schafer was assigned as a writer and programmer to the production of the pirate-themed adventure game The Secret of Monkey Island. Though originally conceived by Ron Gilbert as a blatant rip-off of Treasure Island with a rather serious tone, this came to a gut-bustingly funny end when Schafer's place-holder dialogue was read. Changing horses in midstream, the game was then re-written as a straight-up comedy. The Secret of Monkey Island became one of the most acclaimed games of its kind. The same team created the sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.
In his first lead role on a game project (along with Dave Grossman), Schafer returned to Mad Science themes with a sequel to Maniac Mansion titled Day of the Tentacle, a time-travel comedy adventure. It was awesome. After that, Schafer was given relatively free rein, resulting in the biker adventure Full Throttle and afterlife adventure Grim Fandango.
Eventually, LucasArts started shifting away from Adventure games. Not to be deterred, Schafer jumped ship with a bunch of his buddies to start Double Fine Productions. Psychonauts was born here, but like all Cult Classics, it took some time to find its audience.
Schafer spent the next four years working on a project he'd had in the back of his head for almost two decades; the heavy-metal high fantasy adventure Brütal Legend. "I've always seen this overlap between medieval warfare and heavy metal. You see heavy metal singers and they'll have like a brace around their arm and they'll be singing about Orcs. So let's just make a world where that all happens. That all gets put together, the heavy metal, and the rock, and the battling, actually does happen. Let's not flirt around with this let's just do it."
The game went through five long years of Development Hell. The game was cheerfully supported by Sierra, who was then bought out by Activision. Finding out it had it combined Action with Real-Time Strategy elements (RTS being a "naughty word" in the industry), they tried to force Tim Schafer to abandon the entire game mechanics and change it to a Guitar Hero game. During this time, Schafer was, according to Bobby Kotick, missing every milestone and was consistently late in presenting the product. After a failed attempt, Brütal Legend was canceled. Tim Schafer then took the game to Electronic Arts, who although supported the game and used Focus Tests to find out the game really was fun for players of any skill level, they were so scared to admit it was part-RTS, they chose to heavily advertise it as just a Single Player action game. Producing a massive backlash from players whose expectations were driven in the wrong direction. Despite high reviews (from those who actually touched the multiplayer), the game did not sell well.
He's openly mocked Activision and Bobby Kotick, calling him "a total prick." Kotick fired back a few months later, countering that he had never even met Schafer, and had only sat in on a meeting where it was decided that Brutal Legend wasn't worth the time being put into it.
During the production of Brütal Legend, Double Fine took a break from their work for a motivational exercise. He called it "Amnesia Fortnights," because it made it mandatory that Double Fine forget what they were working on for two weeks. In those two weeks, Double Fine broke up into four teams, each one trying to make a game.
The sequel to Brütal Legend was canceled by Electronic Arts into early production, and EA refuses to release the patches that Double Fine made for the first game, acting as if the game never happened. After the cancellation, he had no projects to pitch and was in a Despair Event Horizon. He built up a massive team over the years and dreaded laying people off, or worse, shutting down Double Fine. In a final Author's Saving Throw, Double Fine pitched those four simple games created in two weeks as demos, and all four titles were signed by publishers, saving Double Fine.
The four games are smaller and shorter, with smaller budgets. At least one will be a retail title, and the others will be downloadable games. All of them use the Brütal Legend game engine. In his own words "Trying to kill us made us multiply." Two of the games are published by the recently created THQ Partners. The other two games were published by Warner Brothers Interactive (for Once Upon A Monster) and Microsoft Game Studios (Trenched/Iron Brigade).
Tim Schafer has expressed frustrations over his games being cult hits and hates labels such as "arthouse" or Tortured Artist. "There's definitely not any sort of drive to become exclusive, art-house content," Schafer told Games TM magazine. "I think we're making very accessible games, and I think we'll keep doing that until one of them is a huge hit and then people won’t say that anymore. They’ll say, 'Double Fine sold out!' And we'll say, 'We were trying to sell out with every game we made since the first one!'"
The four games are created by four of his most trusted leads in Double Fine. The first of the four games was called Costume Quest, created by the lead animator of Brütal Legend, Tasha Harris. A former Pixar animator, she left specifically to make video games. The second was Stacking, created by lead artist Lee Petty.
He also was personally behind the idea of resurrecting the perceived-as long dead Adventure Game genre, asking for funds garnered through Kickstarter. The goal was set at $400,000 dollars, which it broke in less than 24 hours of the Kickstarter going up. Tim Schafer and Double Fine raised 3.3 million dollars (roughly eight times what they were expecting to get), which has been put into good use in creating a 2D adventure game called Broken Age.
Broken Age, however, would mark the downturn of Schafer's popularity. The Development Hell the game went through (As detailed in full on the relevant Broken Age pages), despite achieving a significant sum more than it asked for in the Kickstarter, resulted in some fans wondering if the project had died. The game being eventually released in parts (With a year long gap between the episodes), apparently to help fund Part 2, had multiple fans wondering where the hell the funding went for the Kickstarter. History would repeat with Spacebase DF-9, a game that received its budget from Kickstarter before being released in 2015... in an unfinished state, as the game had run out of money. Worse still, the developers released the modding tools, which many took to effectively mean "Finish our game for us." Schafer's popularity took a heavy downturn as a consequence of these two games, and while generally well-received, the Psychonauts revival was met not with excitement by a few players, but trepidation that history would repeat (Fig's shady reputation has not quelled these murmurs). Time will ultimately tell if Schafer can reclaim his glory days.
In late 2015, Schafer and Double Fine after years and years, finally managed to fund Psychonauts 2 using Fig, with a VR simulator interquel called Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin also released in 2017. However, that still wasn’t enough to save the company, and in 2019, Schafer revealed that Microsoft has acquired Double Fine.
Tim Schafer contributed heavily to the creation of:
- The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991)
- Day of the Tentacle (1993)
- Full Throttle (1995)
- Grim Fandango (1998)
- Psychonauts (2005)
- Brütal Legend (2009)
- Costume Quest (2010)
- Stacking (2011)
- Iron Brigade/Trenched (2011)
Tropes exhibited by Tim Schafer's work:
- Author Appeal: Cool cars, as seen in Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Brütal Legend.
- Author Tract: If these two are of any indication, he has a low opinion on television.
- Black Humor: All over the place, especially in the Psychonauts Vault Viewer commentary app for the iPhone, where he and artist Scott Campbell somehow make war, trauma, and dead orphans hilarious.
- Celebrity Resemblance: Has been said to resemble Jack Black and Ryan Davis.
- Money, Dear Boy: His explanation on Microsoft purchasing Double Fine was succinct: "We needed money. They had money."
- Running Gag: In the Psychonauts commentary, he acknowledges he's not an artist and frequently asks Scott Campbell to explain art terms to him, referring to such techniques as "forestratening" and "embiggening". Also, Coach Oleander's box of math.
- Smoking Is Cool: Prevalent in Grim Fandango due to the 1950's noir setting, as well as Sasha Nein in Psychonauts, to show that he's a detached German super-spy from the 1960's-70's.